Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

A lot of people are talking about Hillbilly Elegy right now. And, having read it around Christmastime, I get it, but I also think we need to be talking beyond Hillbilly Elegy as well. 

Here's why. In this book, Vance tells a compelling story about what it is like to be poor and White along the Appalachian rust belt, spanning the Upper Midwest States to the Great Lakes (his main territories being Kentucky and Ohio). It gives depth to why America saw a transition of this demographic from Democrat to Republican. It illustrates the strength of group think in this population as one of the weapons against poverty, drugs, discrimination and violence. It also asks readers to think compassionately about this group of Americans that love their country, and are basing their actions on what they feel is right and fair for them, for once. (Side note: It also delves into how home life, and childhood interpersonal dynamics, shapes the lens from which we later view our adult relationships, which was equally interesting.)

I applaud Vance for bringing this narrative to the fore, and I am glad that it has caused liberal-minded people like myself to understand how Trump appealed to this set of voters. We will never move forward, truly, until we move forward together. This requires empathy, compassion and understanding.

What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.
— J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

But Vance's narrative is not the end point, it is only the beginning. While his story came together nicely, with a Yale Law education and a patient wife, this is not the case for many of his community, or for the marginalized communities who are most at risk with this Trump presidency. Now is the time to keep reading, to keep expanding our perspectives, to follow this reflection on hillbillies with action that aims to address the gaps in the American mindset on which his writings cast light.

In any case, I commend Vance for getting the conversation started.

Micaela NeumannComment